Coming together is a beginning, staying together is progress, and working together is success. – Henry Ford.
One of my clients, a manager named Isaac, was to be put in charge of a new team and he asked me how I could help him to get the team up and being productive together quickly.
Isaac had been named the new manager of this sales team but it would be six weeks before he would take over. So he had some time to plan for this.
We suggested that he ask the team a key question ahead of time and facilitated a kick-off team retreat at which they did some planning. The first question he asked was:
What information do you, the team, need to know about me?
I suggested that he ask this question and use the responses to prepare some information about himself that he would share with them. The principle was that to trust him, they had to begin to know him.
Isaac was really surprised at some of the questions the team asked him. He had expected that they would ask him about his work experience. And they did:
Had he always been in sales?
(No, he had had strong hopes as he graduated from college that he would get a technology job but while at university, he’d had a summer job in sales at the telephone company and it turned out he had a knack for it)
Had he ever experienced real disappointment in his work?
(Yes, he’d applied for a job in the technology department of the telephone company and they had a lot of stronger candidates so he didn’t get the role.)
But they also wanted to know:
Where had he been born?
(Halifax, Nova Scotia)
Did he have siblings?
What did he do for fun outside work?
(He was a good amateur photographer and he had a small sideline taking pictures at weddings which had started when his sister had gotten married and their photographer had cancelled. From there, her friends had asked him to do it, he enjoyed it and so this sideline had just bloomed.)
Then I worked with him to create a design for the retreat where he would get some further answers. They would start with some discussion topics that they would share with each other. The day dawned for the retreat. Everyone was excited and curious about the retreat and how it would go. He began with some opening remarks and then we got the group talking:
For each individual, what were they most proud of in any area of their life?
(This helped him get to know them as well as helping them to get to know each other better – again, this built trust.)
What had been their best experience as a team – what was the experience that they had enjoyed the most where they had been the most challenged, appreciated, trusted, or respected?
(This would help them visualize the ideal team when they came to make decisions about how they wanted to work together.)
What conditions had made that teamwork possible?
and then I asked the whole group:
Thinking about the team today, what are the strengths that are operating?
Strengths they mentioned included:
An ability to be honest with each other about challenges that the team was facing
A sense of humour
Playing together when the work was done
A shared commitment to the team’s mandate
Next, we asked the team what could work better in terms of how they had worked together in the past. We asked, Knowing what the strengths of the team were, how could they work even better together?
They identified a few of the challenges:
On a couple of occasions, when most of the team had finished their work, a couple of individuals still had work to finish but the rest of the team went out to celebrate anyway
Some team members didn’t share credit for the successes with senior management
When mistakes were made, fingers got pointed and blame was assigned
Finally, we asked them how the team would work ideally in the future. And we asked them to create a picture – one where every member of the team put markers to the paper – and to put all the details in. (The key was not for them to try to be artists but to get all the elements of great teamwork up in some way on their paper.)
Then, looking at the picture, we asked them to imagine how they got there. What were the steps the team could take to achieve the best of what was in the picture? Together they created a great set of action plans to get to where they wanted to be as a team.
They would still have to put in some work from time to time to check in on how well they were living up to this ideal. But having laid the foundation for it, they were ready to tackle their work together and Isaac’s team was well on its way to beginning to work together successfully.